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Few places in Los Angeles embellish their eating establishments with extravagant displays during the Winter holidays like they do in France. Bottega Louie is an exception, with a towering “tree” of macarons, including gold ones, reaching to the ceiling, one of several throughout the restaurant and market, but the grand centerpiece in the dining area can be seen from the pastry counter at the other end of the cavernous space.

I’ve been enthralled by this place ever since my first meals here years ago, so much so I wrote two posts, back to back on it back in 2011. Since my return to the US, I have been wanting to revisit some old favorites, and when friends came into town for the week-end, it was a perfect opportunity to meet for brunch downtown.

After years in France, the macarons looked very bright to me, but I’m sure the intense colors sell well here, where bright intense colors are an enticement.

If you can’t decide what to choose, you can always opt for one of the prepackaged gift boxes of varying sizes (they will ship many of their products if you don’t want to carry it back home).

Some things can’t be shipped and should be eaten fresh, like their viennoiseries and

bread, which are very good even to a bread snob like me. The big baguette is pricey at over $5, but it is huge and it freezes well if you can’t eat it all the same day.

Since I usually came for lunch or late supper, this was the first time I encountered the brunch choices, like this freshly squeezed pineapple juice for $7. They had other choices like melon, carrot, and “green”, if you want something other than the usual fruit and citrus.

Once one of my friends saw the table next to us eating the two eggs with turkey sausage, potatoes, and smoked bacon, she didn’t want to get anything else, and she was very happy that they made her order exactly as she wanted, right down to the “burnt” whole wheat toast for $17.

Another friend and I both ordered the Lobster Hash for $20 with lobster, yukon potatoes, shallots, brussel sprouts, and two poached eggs napped with a smoked paprika hollandaise. I liked how the poached eggs were slightly runny, but she preferred her eggs runnier; I thought that the kitchen did a nice job of “middle ground” eggs in a dining room with over 200 seats. Our server was very attentive and literally followed every request with a smile and “Yes, of course”! Including one for warmed milk with the filtered coffee ($.50 surcharge), and as I mentioned earlier, making sure the wheat toast on the side was “well done”.

When we had all cleaned our plates, I tempted everyone to get an order of beignets ($12) to split; the table next to ours chimed in on my description and echoed that they were indeed wonderful. These are still the best beignets I’ve ever had 🙂 Light and buttery, with the raspberry compote so addictive that my friends were licking it off their fingers and “double dunking”!

No one had room for anything else,

but our eyes feasted on all the pastries as we left 🙂

The best resources for great places to eat, drink, and visit are the locals. Luckily two of my friends have lived in Brussels for decades, so they had no problem suggesting a great place for brunch after our visit to Villa Empain yesterday. Downtown Brussels is a bit like downtown Los Angeles; it’s being revived as a neighborhood that people want to live in and go out in with gentrified buildings that have become live and work lofts, stores which feature avant garde designers, and restaurants that draw people from all over the city.

Les Filles started with a micro loan that seeded three women to start their own épicerie, restaurant, and cooking school, now in two locations. This is one of the few restaurants open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. Serving fresh local produce in a relaxed communal atmosphere for very reasonable prices, they do not take reservations and the wait for brunch can be 30 minutes or more (in Brussels this is considered an extremely long wait)!

We went to the newer and larger second location, which looks like an office building or private residence from the outside, except for the signage in the window.

 

They have the grocery store on the 2nd floor, the restaurant on the 3rd, and the cooking classes are held on the 4th floor. Since there’s usually a wait for a table, people sit on the stairs in order of arrival to wait for a space at one of the communal tables.

It’s self serve buffet style, with dishes that change every half hour. For brunch there was an assortment of five breads, including brioche, nut, sweet egg, and whole wheat, to croissants. Three types of jams, three types of butters, a pumpkin turnip soup, a mandarin orange endive salad, a sausage and onion casserole, a parsley oil tzatziki, tabbouleh, an assortment of cheese and fruit, soft boiled eggs, fresh ham, and for dessert a chocolate fondant with spiced whipped cream on the side.

 

This was my first of three plates:)

The olive oil on the table was so good I ate three slices of bread just to have more, and I ended up buying a liter of it at the grocery store downstairs to take home for 17.70€ (about $25 for 1 quart). Your meal costs 15€ (about $20) per person, and you can get juices, coffees, wine or sparkling water in addition, but I would have chosen to drink the olive oil!

When you are ready for your bill, they give you a pin which you present to the cashier at the grocery store and it’s coded with your total! Very cool technology for a very warm wonderful place to share a meal:)

The good thing about living close to the beach but not AT the beach is that I don’t have to suffer the throngs of people who descend on the week-ends, I don’t have to deal with cars blocking my driveway (“for just a minute”), and I can enjoy virtually marine layer free blue sunny days. Can you tell that I am glad I no longer live at the beach? All this being said, it’s still fun to GO to the beach. Just like it’s fun to rent a convertible even though you may not enjoy owning one (yes, I’ve been there and done that too).

So when friends came in from out of town who also used to live at the beach, we went to the beach! Venice’s Abbot Kinney was a funky artsy area before all the high end hipsters, but the “revitalization” has added some great places to eat in addition to what used to be the only good place to eat, Joe’s.

Feed Body & Soul has a beautiful facade, a covered patio, and that rarity that makes it worthy of a visit even on Summer week-ends, an adjacent valet parking lot.

We sat on the patio and since we all wanted to taste everything, we decided to literally taste three dishes by each eating a third of a plate and passing it on to the next person.

The crabcakes with a habernero sauce on a bed of organic greens with avocado was not as spicy as it sounds, but rather a lightly spiced salad that highlighted fresh crab. If you are a crabcake lover, you will be pleased with this choice.

The sesame crusted seared ahi with micro greens, wheatberries and a wasabi sauce was done perfectly rare. If you don’t like tuna tartare or tuna sashimi, do not order this, but if you do, this is a whole grain version of a dish you might find in a sushi restaurant. The wasabi sauce was quite spicy, so be forewarned.

My favorite dish was the one I ordered, the wild salmon on a bed of quinoa with spinach and a pea shoot sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, the greens and grains moist and tasty, and I would have definitely eaten all of this dish without sharing!

The portions were not huge and our total for the three of us including tax and tip was about $90 without drinks, but for the atmosphere and the food, this is definitely worth the price for the quality of ingredients.

We went across the street for dessert at N’Ice Cream. They make their gelatos and sorbets fresh every day from ingredients that are organic in other countries but have not been certified as organic in the US. If you love creamy gelato, this is the place to go in Venice. In Hermosa, I prefer Paciugo, but for a place closer to me and with excellent flavors, this is a great find. Prices are about the same starting at $4 for a single serving. I chose the pistachio, a very creamy version made with imported Italian pistachios.

One friend got the maple and it tasted as fresh and creamy as my pistachio.

The third person of our trio chose the chocolate which was soooo chocolaty that I my one bite taste was enough to satiate me!

Maybe next time we’ll rent a convertible when we go to the beach 🙂

Feed Body & Soul on Urbanspoon

N'ice Cream on Urbanspoon

I spent last week at COLCOA (City of Lights, City of Angels), otherwise known as the French Film Festival in Los Angeles held at the Director’s Guild in Hollywood. I go almost every year as my version of a staycation, combining the fun of seeing foreign films debuting in the US with Question & Answer dialogues with the directors, writers, and actors. Of the six films I saw, my two favorites were “Haute Cuisine” (Saveurs du Palais) and “What’s in A Name” (Le Prénom). Best of all it’s only a 10 mile drive away and I always try new places to eat when I go.

This year I found The Pikey. It was so good that throughout the week of the film festival, I went back four times! The word “Pikey” is slang for “traveler” as in the kind who are known for taking advantage of people, but in the case of this place, I would gladly volunteer to be used as a gastronomic guinea pig.

Although it looks like an English pub from the outside, the food they serve here definitely has its roots in Los Angeles. Their ingredients are all locally or organically sourced, and all their meat is free range and cruelty free. The interior has a restaurant side and a bar side, but on most days the patio is a perfect spot to sit with the sunbrellas and heat lamps.

Not wishing to compete with 700 people at COLCOA for the free continental breakfast, I parked and walked the four blocks to the Pikey from the DGA building and had brunch. Their Bloody Mary for $8 is made with Vegemite! Yes, you read that correctly, Vegemite! Yes, those are pickled green beans as garnish. Yes, it was delicious!

I needed something more substantial than a $4 Crumpet with honeycomb and clotted cream for my movie marathon, so I ordered the cured Arctic Char with scrambled eggs in Hollandaise and biscuit for $14. This was probably the best brunch plate I have ever eaten.

The eggs were done perfectly, not too runny, not overcooked, the cured Arctic Char was sublime, and the Hollandaise was perfect proportion to the eggs and cured fish. The biscuit was fluffy and flaky (a difficult combination to master), needing nothing on it, and the watercress salad had a fresh lemon dressing that balanced the rich eggs and biscuit. Writing about it now makes me wish it was the week-end now so I can go get this again!

I went back after a show and ordered a dinner of the vegan eggplant, tomato and lentil curry served with Punjabi cornbread for $15, and the redolent spices of the curry made me smile with joy when it arrived on my table. I’m sorry to not have a picture for you, but it was dark and I did not want to disturb the other diners with a flash from my camera.

On another day I came before a movie and had appetizers outside. Even though they are a “pub”, they serve great wines like Muscadet, wonderful scotches, and exotic liqueurs mixed in signature drinks with names like the “Twiggy” the “Guvnor” and the “Coach and Horses” for about $14. I ordered a glass of Entre Deux Mers White Bordeaux (yes, I can be boring at times).

A white Bordeaux just tasted better with the Arctic Char Crudo with Sea Beans and California Citrus for $16. Both were delightful. The fish was amazingly fresh with a light citrus and olive oil dressing and the sea beans were slightly salty vegetables that resemble tiny asparagus. If you love sashimi this dish has your name on it.

Every server and host I had on my four visits was exceptionally friendly and professional, and since I couldn’t decide whether I wanted curried cauliflower or the thrice cooked chips with Worcestershire aioli (both $6), I asked my waitress to decide for me. She wisely chose the chips since she said, “You’ve already been so healthy with the crudo”!

The chips ($6) came with an assortment of sauces in case I did not like the Worcestershire aioli (it was good). They were so great simply plain (see, I  told you I’m boring) that I nearly ate them all (although I did sprinkle some malt vinegar on them just to be traditionally British).

On another afternoon I stopped in for the seared squid with curried chick peas for $13.The squid was absolutely tender and the curried chick peas had a nice smoky flavor. My only complaint about this plate was that there wasn’t more squid!

The key to watching two movies in one day is staying awake for both of them, so I had a latte before I left and was surprised at how well they make their coffee drinks! I would come here for just coffee (it was that good).

Another pleasant surprise was the sweet puff of meringue that came with the bill 🙂

They offer valet parking in the evening, but depending on when you are going, you can find free parking in the back or on one of the side streets off Sunset Boulevard.

Their menu says “Me Likey The Pikey”, and I couldn’t agree more!

The Pikey on Urbanspoon

 

Sunny Spot is an aptly named eatery in Marina Del Rey with an expansive enclosed patio which allows glimpses of blue skies even during the grayest of Southern California days. Our weather this week has been overcast skies with temperatures that have hovered in the 60-70 Fahrenheit range. Fortunately the smiles and the Caribbean ambiance here would brighten even rainy days, and they have indoor seating if the rumor is true that it truly rains in Southern California.

I am always impressed when the service team works together, but I am absolutely astounded when a manager steps in to take orders and clear plates. Matt, the manager during a prime time Sunday brunch came to take my order, gave it to my waitress, came back, cleared my plate, and asked how everything was, all with the grace of a symphony conductor who was filling in for one of the musicians in his orchestra, never missing a note.

I learned that one reason that brunch is so popular is that they offer bottomless mix and match cocktails like Mimosas and Bloody Marys for $10, so people come and stay all afternoon. I tried a Bloody Mary and it was delicious, with enough spice and kick to rival another brunch hot spot, Joe’s, in nearby Venice. Although it was VERY loud, several people came with children in strollers, so this place is a kid friendly for brunch. Hopefully the kids in the strollers all had a sober driver to get them home…..

My waitress recommended the “Cash Money Calamari” for $9 ($6 during happy hour) and when it arrived I was disappointed with the color, which made it look undercooked. It was perfectly tender and lightly salted, but for aesthetics I would have preferred a more golden appearance. The spicy cocktail sauce and lemon helped, but it lacked flavor that would have made it special.

Since I wanted something spicy, and they are known for their wings marinated in habanero for $9 ($5 during happy hour), I segued on to their jerk wings. At first bite, I didn’t feel any spice, but as I kept eating the warmth glowed like an ember, a bit stronger with every bite. If you are in the least bit sensitive to heat, do NOT get these because although I loved the flavor, by the end of my second wing I was looking for some milk. If you love heat, go for these. They are not super crispy even though they are double fried, but they are not mushy or greasy either.

The “one fisted” slider was adorable, about 3″ in diameter, on a brioche bun with tomato jam, arugula, cheddar, herb mayo, and the perfect bar bite at $3 during happy hour or you can get the “two fisted” burger for $13 which is “normal” sized.

The brunch menu had a “Sunfire chicken salad” which is their Sunfire Salad, made butter lettuce, radicchio, arugula, cauliflower, grapefruit, goat cheese, a chili lime vinaigrette, made with the addition of jerk chicken for $13. This was my least favorite item because the jerk chicken was barely spiced, the greens were overly dressed, and it was not tossed well, with nearly all of the ingredients at the bottom of the plate under the lettuce. Because I ordered this during their Brunch and they were literally jam packed, I might try this again when the kitchen isn’t slammed.

When the hostess, wait staff, bus staff, and manager all work together as a team during the height of a holiday brunch and manage to stay upbeat as they do their work, they bring a bright Sunny Spot to the gloomiest days in Marina Del Rey.

Sunny Spot on Urbanspoon

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